A Pyramid of Success

Edition: May 2002 - Vol 10 Number 05
Article#: 1245
Author: Paul Kessler

When I first started in this business many years ago, the emphasis was on the basics: Get the product sold, stick close to the customer and follow up. Consistently doing this could ensure you and your company a steady stream of sales and revenue growth.

Happiness and contentment ruled the day. Your customer got what he or she wanted or needed, your company made sales, and you made a tidy living. This was the picture in an easier and less complex arena. And a pretty picture it was.

Clearly things have changed. But should they have changed so drastically? Without considering the technological, political, cultural and economic metamorphoses that characterize any developing, dynamic society or industry, have you noticed the growth and use of ''buzzwords?'' Now we are concerned with stakeholders, relationship managers and various ways to deconstruct the customer interaction so that we can attempt to understand what is either a very complex or very simple process, depending on your point of view. We have all been to various sales training programs, which are known by many names, in an attempt to make scientific that which is probably more artistic. Book authors, seminar leaders and motivational speakers have also made a substantial business attempting to deliver THE answer. But how much is devoted to the basics of the sales process?

The Basics
An example of a company that has gotten the basics right is Wal-Mart. About to become one of the largest companies with earnings approaching $7 billion, its entire business model and strategy is grounded in the basics of staying close to the customer. Find a qualified lead, provide a large selection of what that lead (read ''customer'') wants and/or needs, and sell it at a fair price. All this performance and unparalleled execution despite the fact that Wal-Mart manufactures nothing. They are just another means of distributing a widget that is available most anywhere else. To quote a very successful and well-known colleague at Welch Allyn: ''At the end of the day,'' Wal-Mart knows and practices the basics.

Some of the world's most enduring construction projects still stand today because of the foundations on which they are built. The Great Pyramids on the Giza Plateau just across the Nile River in Egypt are probably the greatest example. Still standing after 5,000 years, they have endured millennia of great change. Although there must be many reasons why, the foundations they are built on surely play a large role. I think our general sales process is much like the pyramids in that a large measure of our success is determined by our adherence to the basics and the foundations upon which they are based. In fact, I call them the ''Pyramid of Success.''

The Qualified Lead
As you can tell, the foundation of this pyramid is a qualified lead. But what differentiates a qualified lead from an unqualified one? The contact information for a potential buyer or customer is a lead, isn't it? No. An unqualified lead could be someone who is just shopping with no intention to buy. While this is someone who perhaps could be cultivated over time, this individual is not a qualified lead. His or her name would go into a ''tickler'' file for future contact after additional fact-finding, including the time frame for the purchase decision.

A qualified lead has all the following characteristics:
• Time
• Money
• Need
• Interest

The evaluation process can be lengthy. Depending on your market segment and product, the sales cycle can be two weeks to three months or longer. Will the account commit to investing the time necessary to bring the process to a successful conclusion, which includes the purchase of some product that may or not be your product offering?

Let's say that they just love your product and want many of them. Can they actually acquire it? If capital money is in short supply, will they be willing to consider creative purchasing methods, such as a lease, an upcharge on the disposable component (if applicable), or consignment? At times throughout my career, I have had access to some absolutely fantastic products which improved hospital or physician practice. While the improvement was real, it wasn't substantial enough to overcome the natural desire to maintain the status quo. Therefore there was no perceived need on the part of the customer, and hence, no sale.

Some potential customers have no real interest in change of any kind. Maintaining the status quo is what's most important to them. This would qualify as no lead at all.

In the hands of some, these ''non-qualifieds'' may be turned to the opposite side. But doing so is very difficult, with the probability being that the time invested will not result in the exchange of monetary units.

In this time of increased market pressures, it is critical that we ''work smart.'' While this, too, can be called a buzzword, it does help us remember that both our long-term and short-term success depends on building a solid foundation upon which we can build lasting relationships. The Pyramid of Success will hopefully provide a framework and a road map to those relationships.

About The Author:
Paul Kessler is a hospital sales representative with the Medical Products Division of Welch Allyn Inc. He has over 20 years of experience in the medical industry selling and marketing a variety of medical products and services. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Phoenix, where he teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. He has contributed articles in the past for both Repertoire and First Moves.